Advocating Together in Juneau! 

Jenni Lefing, Membership Services Manager

AASB’s February Legislative Fly-In was well-attended this year, with over 150 school board members, students and superintendents from 31 districts. The weekend was focused entirely on learning how to be effective education advocates using the three AASB legislative priorities: Funding, Students, and Educators.  

Saturday Sessions

Lon Garrison and Tiffany Jackson began the day with a presentation on “the why” behind advocacy. They reviewed key responsibilities for a school board, one of which is to “advocate for resources to support the local system of public education.”  They went on to explain that school boards should advocate for public education as they:

  • Know best what is needed and what is needed to educate their students
  • Are elected to represent the local vision for what student success looks like
  • Are the connections between the school system and stakeholders

Norm Wooten and Lon Garrison then introduced this year’s legislative players, the organization of the House and Senate, and reviewed current education Bills introduced in each body. 

The rest of the day was spent with Marissa Rathbone, Director of Strategic Advocacy at the Washington State School Directors’ Association. Ms. Rathbone brought her experience working in education and state government for over 25 years and shared with attendees a well-developed set of advocacy skills. 

To start, attendees identified what makes a good advocate. Being knowledgeable, passionate and committed were the top responses. Ms. Rathbone then shared that getting to know your legislators is the first step. This includes introducing yourself to legislators and their staff (each time a new legislator is elected), inviting them to visit your schools/community, including student voices and sharing stories. She then shared tips for before and during testimony, including preparing remarks in writing and sharing with staff, being clear about your position, and sharing relevant data/stories to illustrate the issue being discussed. 

Key takeaways from Ms. Rathbone’s advocacy session:

  • Advocacy is a year-round effort (not just during legislative sessions). 
  • The best time to build relationships is between sessions. 
  • Advocacy is not hard, but it is a long game. 
  • Authentic relationships take time.
  • Good bills take time to pass, and problematic bills take time to amend. Oh yeah, and dead bills return to life.
  • Many resources are available to help you navigate, but only you can build vital relationships.

Sunday Sessions

Sunday’s discussion on advocacy continued with hearing from statewide education advocates. Students attending the Youth Advocacy Institute joined school board members for most of the day and were part of school boards’ planning time.  

Dr. Elizabeth “Lisa” Skiles Parady, Alaska Council of School Administrators; Nils Andreassen; Alaska Municipal League; and Emily Ferry & Lisa Worl, Great Alaska Schools, shared their perspectives on advocating for the same issues as AASB and what their organizations are doing this legislative session.  

The presentation included Dr. Parady sharing how ACSA and AASB are advocating together for education funding. She shared a Priorities for Alaska’s Schools: Message Map tool for boards to identify key messages and talking points.

Sunday’s keynote luncheon speaker was Neil Steininger, Director Office of Management and Budget. He presented the FY 2024 Governor’s Budget that included a look back from FY 2019 to FY 2024, current budget challenges, and a 10-year outlook. 

In the afternoon, Lisa Worl and Emily Ferry, AASB, presented Other Voices for Our Priorities. This session focused on Mental Health & Student Wellness, including what AASB is doing to support these efforts and how this is being advocated for. During this session, students attending Youth Advocacy Institute (YAI) read their 2-minute prepared testimony that they developed at YAI.

School boards and students then spent time honing advocacy skills by developing talking points around each of the legislative priorities and identifying plans for legislative visits that week. 

As conveyed by Ms. Rathbone, advocacy is year-round! Continue to stay informed (an essential piece of advocacy) by: